No to Mike Ashley’s Dickensian employment practices

On 18th March Youth Fight For Jobs supporters in Birmingham mounted a protest against Sports Direct’s Dickensian working practices at the Birmingham City vs Newcastle United game. Newcastle and Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley has built a business based on rampant use of zero hours contracts for shop and warehouse staff, poverty pay, and workhouse-like conditions at the firm’s Shirebrook warehouse.

The warehouse has become notorious even in today’s super-casualised job market. Practices include intrusive searches of staff on entry and exit and a six strikes disciplinary policy which led to one woman worker giving birth in the toilets, as she was unable to afford to take (unpaid) time off while pregnant.

After these practices were exposed by Unite the Union’s campaigning to get Sports Direct exposed in the press and in front of a parliamentary committee, Ashley generously promised to give his minimum wage employees a pay rise – of 15p an hour!

The protest consisted of passing out leaflets to home and away fans on their way into the ground. On one side was a sports directhort summary of Sports Direct’s shameful treatment of it’s employees, whilst on the other was a sign calling on fans to boycott Sports Direct, to be held up five minutes before kickoff.

When it came to it, Newcastle fans all too eager to take anything laying into Mike Ashley! Despite being eager to get to their seats, a good number of Birmingham fans were also keen to take a leaflet after seeing that we were taking a stand against what many workers increasingly recognise as one of the worst of a bad bunch when it comes to high street employers.

Reports from inside the ground say that over 100 fans held up the leaflet before kick off. But most importantly was the chance to raise the idea  among young workers that low wages and bad conditions can be fought

Youth Fight For Jobs stands for the following, and works with trade unions to make it a reality:

  • A living wage of £10 an hour
  • An end to zero hours contracts, with holiday, maternity and sick pay
  • Full employment rights from day one to protect against unfair dismissal and management bullying
  • An end to the parasitic wideboys running our football clubs, with genuine fan ownership and control “

Fight poverty pay! For fighting unions

Adam Viteos

Over Christmas I worked gruelling hours in the retail sector, sometimes up to seven hours without any breaks. I did not dare refuse or complain as I was on a four-hour contract and I knew that I’d be put at the bottom of the list if a shift came up at short notice.

Despite my constant availability and inconsistency of hours – some weeks working only eight hours, others up to 36 – I was still paid little enough to be eligible to continue receiving a top up from Universal Credit throughout the months leading up to Christmas.

I often have to work from morning to late afternoon with no break.Lunch is completely out of the question and so I constantly feel tired. Yet I always seem to feel on edge when I’m not working. I feel like my life revolves around waiting for the phone to ring for my next shift or worrying when I don’t get the call about how I’m going to make my rent or feed myself.

I’m angry and my co-workers, while sharing my anger, are completely demoralised and have no confidence in organising.

I’ve decided to do something with my anger and am attending my first Usdaw (retail union) branch meeting next week. I hope to find other people who face the same situation because I know that if I dare organise anything on my own I’ll suddenly find myself on my contracted four hours and no more.

I hope that with others in my union facing similar disgraceful circumstances, we can start organising in each other’s workplaces so that we’re not victimised at work for daring to make a stand.

We desperately need an end to zero-hour and low-hour contracts unless specifically requested by the workers; an end to poverty wages, and the introduction of a £10 an hour minimum wage now, as a step towards a real living wage.

Youth fight for Jobs supports and campaigns for these demands and I am sure other members of my union will be as keen to organise and fight on these issues because these insecure jobs are completely unsustainable and need to be stopped.

Fight zero hour contracts

Roxy Castell, Zero hour contract worker

910,000 workers in Britain are on zero-hour contracts – a six-fold increase since 2008 – according to analysis by the Resolution Foundation think-tank. The Trade Union Congress expects it to top a million shortly.

The rise of zero-hour contracts in place of more secure ones leaves workers facing insecure futures where homelessness is a week-to-week threat.

I have first-hand experience of trying to survive, and raise a daughter, on zero-hour contracts. I can attest to the stress and hopelessness that can accompany this situation.

Living on a zero-hour contract often means having very little idea of weekly income, making planning for the future impossible. In order to sustain themselves, workers are sometimes having to take on more than one zero-hour contract at a time, leading to a chaotic and stressful lifestyle.

At one point I had two zero-hour contracts and one 12-hour one. But due to the instability of the hours I was given, I was still having to sign on to survive in the weeks where I was earning less than I would be on the dole.

This caused intense stress not only for me, but also for the job centre staff who had to deal with my claim, highlighting that the current benefit system is insufficient to deal with the prevalence of zero-hour contracts.

Never knowing where the next electric payment or food shop is coming from, let alone what the future holds in terms of employment, means workers are trapped in a hand-to-mouth cycle. This has inevitable consequences for their mental wellbeing, and subsequently wider social implications.

In order to tackle this we fight to scrap zero-hour contracts, and guarantee full-time hours and permanent jobs for all who want them. We campaign for trade unions to take the lead on achieving this, through membership drives, protests and strikes.